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THE HISTORY OF THE CITY COLLEGE OF NEW YORK: 1969-1999
introduction | 1969 Open Admission Strike | 1970 struggles | 1980 | 1990 Here we go again, and again!!! | NEWSPAPER ARTICLES | Bibliography

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1980

CUNY Student Activism in the 1980s CUNY student activism in the 1980s was overwhelmingly concerned with off-campus issues that are largely outside the concern of this study. Several comparatively small budget cuts and tuition increases took place with nothing like the protests that had rocked the university in 1976. Student activism in this period focused on issues like nuclear disarmament, opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa, and U.S. military intervention in Central America, with CUNY students often joining in city-wide and national mobilizations around these issues. In 1982 Chancellor Kibbee was replaced by Joseph Murphy. By 1984 tuition at CUNY had risen to $1,225 per year and Governor Mario Cuomo was proposing a hike of $200 more per year. Chancellor Murphy denounced the proposal as a threat to the mission of the university, but student protest was minimal. The proposal was nonetheless defeated. In the fall of that year the Board of Trustees voted to divest from all stockholdings in companies that do business in South Africa, effectively anticipating the wave of campus demonstrations and building occupations that would take place on this issue across the country in the spring of 1985. In 1986 CUNY student governments were rocked by a scandal involving massive misappropriations of funds. In 1988 the Board of Trustees considered a radical restructuring of teacher education at CUNY that provoked spirited debate leading to a tabling of the proposal. The 1989 Student Strike By late 1988 it was clear that the state was facing a new major budget crisis and that CUNY was a likely target for budget cuts. In November Chancellor Murphy imposed a university-wide freeze on new hires and non-essential purchases in anticipation of the cuts. 1989 would be a year of upheaval around the world and the events and mood of the year undoubtedly contributed to the determination of the CUNY student movement in the face of proposed budget cuts and tuition hikes. The second half of the 1980s had seen a minor upsurge in student activism nationwide beginning with the movement for university divestment from South Africa in 1985 and 86. Opposition to U.S. military aid and intervention in Central America had also radicalized many students, many of whom participated in an attempt to use civil disobedience to shut down the Pentagon in the fall of 1988. By 1989, the apartheid regime in South Africa was entering a terminal crisis and there was widespread expectation of another major confrontation. In China that spring a massive student movement emerged to challenge the ossified rule of the Communist Party by occupying Tiananmen Square. All of these developments contributed to the conviction among many CUNY students that spring that they could resist the attacks coming down on their university. 1989 was also the 20th anniversary of the 1969 Open Admissions strike. The discussion and commemorations of the strike, particularly at City College, contributed to an awareness of the tactics and strategies employed by the strikers and a sense of the importance of their historical legacy, which now seemed under threat. In the early spring the State Legislature approved a tuition increase of $200 a year over $1250 per year. On April 24, two days after a 20th anniversary commemoration of the 1969 Open Admissions Strike, City College students occupied an administration building in protest. The strike leadership came from a tight knit group of students organized as Students for Educational Rights (SER). SER was based at City College but established branches at several other CUNY campuses where they played a leadership and coordination role within the larger student movement. By April 27 the protests had spread to Hunter, Hostos, BMCC, Lehman, Medgar Evers and John Jay. At Hunter, 100 students locked and occupied 14 floors of the East Building, which houses the administration, and remained there while About 500 students blocked traffic on Lexington Avenue at 68th Street shortly before the evening rush hour, tying up traffic. With scores of police with riot equipment standing by, the protesters dwindled as the evening wore on and disbanded peacefully at 9:15. At Hostos 1, 000 students rallied in front of one of two main buildings yesterday afternoon after protesters had padlocked entrances and shut classes. At BMCC twenty-five students took over the college presidents office while another 5,000 rallied in the schools expansive cafeteria. 250 students marched on the campus of Lehman College and at Medgar Evers Students barricaded themselves in the administration building. John Jay students also chained and padlocked doors of their administration building. Reginald Holmes, President of Student Government at John Jay expressed the outlook of the occupiers across the university when he said, Were going to do this until were physically removed or until Governor Cuomo makes education a priority The occupations had an immediate impact. The next day the Board of Trustees was already meeting with student leaders hoping to negotiate an end to the occupations. The same day students at Hunter repeated the tactic theyd used the day before and Blocked traffic at 68th and Lexington Ave. from noon until 6:45. Militant opposition to the cuts was not limited to CUNY. Similar cuts targeted SUNY. When students at SUNY New Paltz surround Governor Cuomos car and demanded no increase in tuition he told them that they were talking to the wrong guy, implying that the fault lay with university administrators. May 1 saw another escalation in the student protests. By then students had occupied buildings or offices at 13 of 20 CUNY campuses including La Guardia Community College, Queensborough, the College of Staten Island, BMCC and Baruch. Students blocked traffic again that day at Hunter for six hours. Classes were cancelled at John Jay when a second building was occupied. Another building was also taken at La Guardia and students blocked traffic on Queens Boulevard. Police turned 200 marchers from BMCC away before they could reach City Hall. 600 rallied and 100 occupied the college presidents office at New York City Technical College. 30 students seized Boylan Hall at Brooklyn College where another 300 students disrupted classes and blocked traffic at the nearby intersection of Flatbush and Nostrand. Until this point the occupations had remained a CUNY phenomena. But on May 1 SUNY Purchase students took over their administration building and students at SUNY Albany seized their library for one day. The situation was clearly getting out of control. But Chancellor Murphy still refused to call in the police. The next day Classes were suspended at John Jay, La Guardia and York because classroom buildings were occupied. A march through downtown demonstrated the strength of the movement. Police estimated the crowd at 5,000 and organizers claimed 10,000. The New York Times reported the marchers filled the street from sidewalk to sidewalk and stretched more than four blocks long. At least sixteen CUNY campuses were represented in the march. On the same day as the march, Cuomo vetoed the tuition increases for CUNY and SUNY. Explaining his reversal, Cuomo mentioned only in passing the widespread student protests and said he was vetoing the increases because university officials had not demonstrated that they had done everything they could to avoid higher tuition. The day after the veto, May 3, students gave up six buildings but held on to ten more, demanding no budget cuts. Mark Torres of City College and the head of occupations coordinating committee said buildings would be held until students were included in the budget negotiations. According to the New York Times, Mr. Torres said the movement, which began as a reaction to the tuition increase, was now addressing other issures. The students for example, are pushing for more professors from minority groups, more adult education programs for the community and expanded day-care services. Torres explained, The tuition issue does create a hardship, but what we are looking at here is the destruction of CUNY and SUNY. He continued, the issue is access to the university for people of color and the working class. Thats what this struggle has evolved into. In truth the students had won their most important demand. Maintaining the occupations was increasingly exhausting and about to cut into final exams. On May 4, students at ten campuses voted to end their occupations by 10 a.m. the next morning. The occupation at SUNY Purchase was ended as well. Only Hunter decided to try to hold out. But their resolve didnt last much longer. Signaling the willingness of at least somebody to raise the stakes a pipe bomb exploded in a garbage can at Queensborough Community College. Nobody was injured in the explosion, but an note found nearby threatened that if student demands not met there would be further violence and trouble. The 1989 CUNY student strike was by all measures a major victory for the CUNY student movement. Like the 1969 strike, on which it consciously modeled itself, the 1989 strike demonstrated that the political power of students lay mainly in their willingness and ability to disrupt social peace by employing direct action. It also showed once again that students of color were the heart and soul of the movement. While many white students participated in the occupations, the movements leadership came primarily from Black and Latino students, in particular a core of students based at City College.

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A PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE COLLEGE (Before there was a stadium)